This oral history interview with Lee Johnson was conducted by Clark Hansen at Johnson's home, as well as his office, in Portland, Oregon, from April 20 to September 29, 1992. In this interview, Johnson discusses his family background and early life in Toledo, Oregon, during the Depression; he likens Toledo to a company town. He talks about moving to Portland at the age of 11, then attending prep school in New Jersey, and Princeton after that. He discusses how his education at Princeton changed his political outlook, and talks about volunteering for the Navy after the Korean War. He then talks about studying law at Stanford, including his interest in antitrust law, his involvement with the Law Review, and starting a family with his wife, Dorothy Marie Miller. He goes on to discuss his brief stint as a trial lawyer for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., under both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, as well as practicing law in Portland. He briefly describes many of the judges before whom he argued cases. He talks about his involvement with the Trumpeters and the Republican Party.
Johnson discusses serving in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1965 to 1968, including campaigning, advocating for a sales tax, and his views on decriminalizing drugs. He also talks about some of the legislators he served with, including Monte Montgomery and Harry Boivin. He also speaks about Governor Mark Hatfield's administration; reapportionment; and the constitutionality of the Beach Bill. He then discusses serving as attorney general for Oregon from 1969 to 1975, particularly his campaigns. He also discusses some of the cases he prosecuted, his staff, and recruiting lawyers. He also speaks at length about the passage of the Bottle Bill. He discusses working in Governor Tom McCall's administration, as well as Governor Bob Straub's; his rivalry with Clay Myers; and working with George Van Hoomisen. He also talks about his work on cases regarding welfare reforms, particularly to help single mothers; antitrust law; regulation of fisheries; and crime prevention. He speaks often about the working relationship the district attorney's office had with the Oregon Legislature. He also describes his DUI arrest and the resulting trial; the gun control debate; the prison system and capital punishment; and whistleblower protections.
Johnson discusses his partial term as a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals from 1977 to 1978, including his campaigns, the role of the judiciary, and working with juries. He also discusses judges he worked with, including Jacob Tanzer, Jason Lee, Hans Linde and Herb Schwabe. He talks about judicial decisions, including on abortion; procedures of the court; continuing education; the relationship between courts of different levels; and his views on the role of judges. He speaks at length about his time working for the administration of Governor Vic Atiyeh, as well as changes in the Legislature. He then talks about serving on the Multnomah County Circuit Court of Appeals from 1983 up to the time of the interview in 1992, including cases he worked on, his colleagues, and staff. He talks about how legislation has affected the job of judges, including the war on drugs, liability laws, and sentencing guidelines. He closes the interview with a discussion of the members of the Oregon delegation to Congress.